Knebel announced his decision to the media in the Brewers' dugout a couple of hours before his team was set to take on the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park. While it's not common for players to announce their own surgery, in Knebel's case it was fitting because it truly was his decision.
"I decided to go with surgery," Knebel said. "It's just going to be better to do it now and come back next year."
After experiencing discomfort during spring training, Knebel sought several medical opinions. He heard the same thing over and over: He could have surgery now, or rest the elbow and hope to return later in the season. However, if the latter option didn't pan out, Knebel would have lost precious rehab time.
According to Knebel, the fact that the doctors and the club ultimately left the final decision to him was the most difficult part of the last couple of weeks.
"I've had the information now for a week," Knebel said. "I couldn't just decide right away. It sucked that it was my decision. I hated that. I really wish the doctor would have just said, 'here is what we're doing.' The fact is, everyone was saying the same thing. It was my decision, up to me. That's what made it tough."
The surgery will be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Then the right-hander will spend the season rehabbing at the Brewers' facility in Maryvale, Arizona.
Knebel had 16 saves and a 3.58 ERA last season, plus a sparkling 0.90 ERA in nine playoff appearances. He was an All-Star in 2017 with 39 saves and a 1.78 ERA in 76 innings.
Friday's news was the latest blow for the powerhouse Milwaukee bullpen that played a big part in getting the Brewers within one game of the World Series last season. Offseason acquisition Bobby Wahl was lost during spring training for the season because of a torn ACL. In addition, righty Jeremy Jeffress is still working his way back from a shoulder problem. Jeffress has resumed throwing but is still weeks away from a return to big-league action.
"[Our depth] is being tested," Milwaukee general manager David Stearns said. "We build for depth. I don't know that anyone anticipates losing two prominent relief pitchers for the entire season before Opening Day. That's what we've got and we'll make the most of it. We'll be able to recover and go from here."
The elephant in the proverbial room is the lingering presence of star closer Craig Kimbrel on the free-agent market. Kimbrel, who anchored last season's bullpen for the champion Boston Red Sox, has saved 68 more games than any other player in the big leagues since 2011.
"I'm not going to talk about any specific player," Stearns said. "Clearly if there are players out there that are going to make us better, we're going to investigate it."
As for Knebel, manager Craig Counsell expressed no qualms with the pitcher's decision, only empathy for his wounded player.
"It's disappointing," Counsell said. "This is a tough injury for pitchers, a lengthy injury for pitchers. He's taking this season to get it fixed, and we fully support him making that decision."
Knebel first learned that he had a tear in his elbow five years ago, when he was also given the option to try to pitch through the injury or move ahead with surgery. He opted to keep pitching, a decision he doesn't regret. But he is looking forward to finally pitching with a healthy arm.
"It's been five years, and five great years," Knebel said. "They felt good, and here I am today. I would like to know how it's going to feel like when it's healthy."